Decision Dialogues
Decision Dialogues

Episode 23 · 11 months ago

A Fighter at Heart: Strength and Resilience in the Face of Adversity


On Episode 23 of Decision Dialogues, Jennifer Faherty speaks with Dr. Kelly McNally Passarelli, dentist and owner of McNally Passarelli DDS. Kelly talks about how her passion for dentistry emerged at a young age after her experience with cleft lip and palate. She shares how she navigated the painful loss of her husband and, through resilience and a strong support system, learned to run the practice on her own.

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Are you paving the way for the life you want facing decisions that may affect you personally and financially? The decision dialogs podcast, brought to you by Modera Wealth Management, presents personal stories about navigating through life's pivotal moments, narratives that we hope will inspire you as you create your own story. You'll learn what influence their next steps and gain insights that could help you with your own critical choices. Welcome to decision dialogs. Thanks for joining us on decision dialogs. We're thrilled to have you along. My name is Jennifer Ferrety and I'm the chief client experience officer at Modara Wealth Management Llc. Today I will be chatting with Dr Kelly McNally Passarelli. Kelly has been practicing dentistry for nearly three decades. Her dental practice has been in her family for over sixty years. Wow. So welcome, Kelly. Thank you so much for being a guest today on our show. Thanks for having me, Jennifer, happy to be here, great, happy to have you so. I know you have a very compelling story to tell and you know I definitely want to get to that. But before we kind of get to the heart of it. Just tell us a little bit first about how what your background is and really how you first decide it to become a dentist. So I was born with a clifflip and Palette and was basically involved in the dental world early on because of my birth defect. I started with braces in first grade and literally was embraces or retainers all through my education till I graduated from high school. Because of that, I had an interest. I wanted to help people the way that I had been helped and I looked at different professions and I considered speech pathology. I have an aunt who's a speech pathologist and an uncle her husband, and was very interested in that. I considered medicine, but I wanted to be a surgeon. Being a mom was really an important part of what I saw, you know, my future to hold. And no disrespect to women, things have evolved a lot. I graduated such a long time ago, but I just knew I wanted to be around more than I felt, you know, I could be as a surgeon. Dentistry just seemed to be a great feel for a woman and it allowed me to do both things that were important to me. Help others and be there to personally raise my children. So that kind of drove me to dental school from Maryland. Originally I went to Loyala Undergrad and then to universe in Maryland. Dental school. My husband was a couple years ahead a man school, and basically we met and kind of the rest kind of fell into place. Wow, I mean that's great. I mean it's such a personal way to enter the profession and and I would say also not just personal but really thoughtful. Yeah right, it sound like you really kind of took practical considerations kind of almost had a vision for yourself. In many respects I did. I mean I felt very blessed to grow up and in my family and in a lot of ways my mother's and nurse. She was not working while I was young, went back to work when my youngest brother went to school, you know. So that was kind of she was my role model or my mentor and had obviously a profound impact on how I thought about my future and how I wanted to shape that. It's important have those mentors right. Yeah, definitely. Is it what you thought it would be? No, not at all. Do you know what is best? Late to wise right, yeah, so you know you have when you're...

...young. You have idealistic images of how things will be and what's involved. And as thoughtful as I thought my approach was, you know, reality is often different. So I went to general school thinking I wanted to work as an orthodonist. You know, life happens. Thing has happened in my life that kind of made me reconsider the extra amount of schooling and and just I wasn't as passionate about it when I was hands on doing it. I'm a general dentist and I love that because I can do a little bit of everything. I can pick and choose what I'm good at and focus on that and I have great support professionally around me, so I like utilizing them. I thought, you know, my perfect vision early on was to be an Orthodonis and work in a cliff Palate Clinic as an employee. I never wanted to have my own business and you know, you know, that's just not how things worked out for a lot of reasons. Yeah, and and tell us a little bit about why why that was so. Basically, my husband, as I mentioned, was a couple years ahead of me in school. His Dad was a dentist. He grew up in Ridgewood and he actually never wanted to be a dentist. He has a degree. He had a degree in mechanical engineering and wanted to work in the auto industry and just kind of had this epiphany one day that, you know what, I think, being my own boss is really kind of what I need. So he took the preres and chifted his his focus and went to dental school. Anyway, maybe met or friends right before I graduated. We started dating and I think only because we had that friendship foundation we were long distance the whole time that we were dating. I finished school and we got married after I did a general practice residency, so I worked for a year in a hospital, which was a wonderful experience. gave me a lot of different training that I hadn't had prior and then we got married and I joined the practice in one thousand nine hundred and ninety two. So I've been here for a long time. Yeah, and not expecting to be a business owner right, not at all, not at all. And you know, we definitely had a division of Labor. So Larry's DAD was working with US initially. Then he retired and he had really taught Larry how to run a business. You know, his approach was a little bit different. He was definitely a little bit more old school relative to managing staff and, you know, he was kind of more the what the doctor says goes kind of mentality. Larry and I had a very different approach and we tried to create basically a family, a dental family, you know. So our staff has been really very, thankfully, I'm grateful, every day, very consistent and so as Larry utilize the skills as dad taught him and we, you know, were married and started to have a family, I basically was working part time and I was building up within the practice. We had looked at buying practices to get me busy and, you know, the the finances of that just didn't seem to make sense to us. You know, people wanted a lot of money, and that's fine, but what's most important a lot of times in a dental practice is the relationship that the practitioner has with the patients and when that goes people who have been very loyal will then choose the time to shift and move on. So we just decided to hunker down and work on building me up within that practice and it took time, but you know, I was happy being part time and I...

...was blessed and fortunate that I was able to do that for so many years. You know, basically, you know, life is crazy and my life took a huge turn. Sorry now take your time. In two thousand and fifteen my husband passed very suddenly and you know, I went from I always equated to being sort of an analogy for me is being the passenger in the car of life. I kind of knew everything about the business and how to run it and on the house, but I didn't know the street names, I knew roughly where to make the term but I didn't know the actual details of everything. So, you know, I was definitely like a huge transition to go from part time and being able to get to the gym and, you know, have timed cook dinners and, you know, do everything that I had been doing to now basically focusing full, full force, making sure that the business succeeded and thrived, that everyone knew that I was in it for the long haul, that I wasn't there just to basically make it through the first year or prove that I could do it, but actually show everyone that I had the the skills and the desire and the drive to continue the legacy that my father in law and my husband had started. So yeah, that that's basically how I became a business owner, whether I wanted to or not. Well, forards, you know. Thank you for sharing that, and there's so much to unpack there. I don't know you well, but I eat it for our listeners. You know, I remember that getting that letter from your practice about your husband, because he was actually right, more my dentist than you. Yep, just your story just resonated so much and just I knew that it was important for people to understand what what, what that was all about, because I saw you kind of go through that. Now you have this very thriving practice after overcoming that very difficult time period. So again, thank you for sharing that and you know, there's again so much to unpack there. So, if we could go back to like before, you could have built this business together and had a convision of what that would be and kind of had your roles right. No one can expect something like this at all right to happen, but was there ever a conversation about that? What would happen if, yeah, succession or anything like you know. Know we really we were trying to work hard and just put money away so that we could retire comfortably. And you know, just every every job is different and part of what made our life beautiful and difficult was we work together. And so what that meant was we weren't able to take big trips and travel because when we weren't there the office couldn't be open. So because it was only the two of us, and that was a conscious choice. You know, it was conscious because there has to be a level of trust and if you bring someone in, they have to, you know, Mesh with you, not just being able to provide this service, but also personally as well, philosophically as well. And you know that's a really hard being defined and I struggle with that now, to be honest. That's one of the many ways that I miss Larry is. At this point in my life, I'm fifty six. You know what's next for me and how do I get there and how do I take care of my patients and my staff in...

...that transition process? I don't have the answers. It's but it's definitely on my mind and I've looked at things and to be honest nothing. If nothing, who sounds good, I think I'm just going to work until I dope it. But it is, it's it's a struggle and you know, we had sort of briefly talked about things, but it seemed far away. I mean at the time I literally I turned fifty the day that he passed and you know, he had just turned fifty two. So, you know, although we were in our S, it still seemed way down the road. I had a fifteen year old, so, you know, a freshman in high school, and our older son had just finished his freshman year in college. So although it sounded great, you know, and you sort of kind of very lightly touched upon it, there was nothing that was definitive and definitely, you know, the industry is changing so much. Unfortunately, the profession I love, I love to call it just a profession, but unfortunately, you know, there there's an evolution in medicine and dentistry and it isn't, in my personal opinion, necessarily a good path that we're headed down. So and that's part of my struggle and I wish that he was here. It abounce thoughts off. You know, you're talking a little bit about like moving away, I guess, from that intimate kind of family office and kind of bigger right, and that's that's the push, exactly, exactly. And you know, their corporations who are basically trying to absorb practices and it's hard to compete with a big guys as a little guy, you know, purchasing products and supplies and staffing and all the levels of doing what needs to be done. It can be daunting at times, especially then you throw covid on top of it. I mean it's just been a whirlwind of having to assess and reevaluate and reassure patience and staff and myself that we're keeping everything safe and we're doing everything that we can. So there's a lot of daytoday stuff that's done and then you have this other like the more business side of it to consider as well, because unfortunately, as much as you want to just be there to provide your health and wellness, it is a business. If I can't afford to turn the lights on, I can't help anyone. Yeah, I mean going back to you know again, being a business owner, you don't, I think sometimes you don't think about maybe maybe you do. I don't want to make any assumptions. But when you become a dentist you don't think of becoming a business owner necessarily. It's not like the first thing that comes to mind. And I come from a family of doctors and my mom had her own practice as a pedatrician, but she was essentially were business. You know, she was right Tritian, but she was a business owner, just like you are dentist in your business owner. And so when Larry passed away, you know, we always we work with many widows and we tell them not to make too many decisions in the beginning of that first year because so much there's so much change. was there a point where youth asked yourself, do I do I really want to keep running this business? It was that on the table at some point? Or did you know know you wanted to keep going? I think so. Not to dwell on it, but I think it actually kind of speaks to your point. Larry passed away on a Friday overnight and we had basically made arrangements. We had the weight on Monday, we had the funeral on Tuesday. My son's birthday was on Wednesday. It was family day and I was back in the office getting everything organized meetingless...

...staff, starting to work on that letter, because I knew that just how Larry had lived his life, that, you know, the business. That was my means to take care of my children and to provide for myself. And so the reality is I didn't have time to think or consider. I just had to do I just shifted into go mode. And, you know, how could I manage this and make it work and how could I mother my kids and be there and support them when they have gone through their biggest loss, when now I'm not at as accessible as I was to them for their whole lives leading up to that point? So was just this constant action at that survival mode almost. Yeah, I definitely, definitely, definitely survival mode, and it was a lot more complicated, as daunting as that sounds. It was much more involved than even that. But yeah, it was constant appointments and meeting with this one, meeting with lawyers. I mean, it was all consuming. Did you have good support at that time? Tell us about a little bit about like how you because you were having to make a lot of decisions on your own. Yeah, but I imagine you would have needed to reach out. I had. I was very fortunate that we had good people around us leading up to everything and long lasting relationships. I mean I think that that I can't stress finding good people and and valuing them and treasuring them, because they're the people that pull through for you. You know, when you have those long, longstanding relationships, they intuitively know you and they know your plan. So that absolutely saved me. I had people pitching in in lots of little ways, you know. Professionally, I had a lot of dentist specialists that we work with that really rallied and, you know, people like you who knew who I was but weren't really patients of mine per se, were supported and encouraged if they were going through a process. Yes, she's good, she can do it. I had Larry and my head telling me, you know, you're as good as me, you just haven't done it as much. Yeah, so, you know, we had great accountant. He, you know, literally came and Larry always did all the bookkeeping. He took that over. He had a bookkeeper and I was like, you know, I can't, I don't have a me. Larry had me to do stuff and he could take on more those types of things, like the bookkeeping. So I had to basically delegate and hire people that we didn't have. I had to hire an IT guy. It was the right move for me because I had too many other balls in the air. Yeah, so that definitely helped. I also, I'm blessed I have an amazing family and an amazing group of friends behind me and my office staff. Honest to God, they are incredible and amazing and they they were my rocks. So they totally they didn't run away. They you know, they're their futures were potentially in jeopardy as well, and instead of folding in moving on, they all dug in their heels and really helped and supported me and made it work. So I'm very, very lucky. That's great. Yeah, having that kind of support, I think, is just you don't realize so you till you come up to these kind of situations where how how just important that is. Right, that absolutely take that village. Looking back with..., is there anything you would have done differently? You know what? I don't think so, because I think that I think I did what needed to be done. Like you said, it really was survival mode and I don't think that you can you can't second guess yourself right and things worked out well. So, you know, I think the first big decision. You know, everyone was telling me to cut my staff, M to minimize my costs, and you know I had a part time assistant, Lorie, who had been with us, left to have kids, came back, had been back about six years when this all happened, and you know, she would have been the one to let go, but she was priceless, like she's a treasure, and having her stay gave my office staff some flexibility. So that's something that people couldn't understand. People from the outside could tell me what sounded from a number standpoint to make sense, but it didn't make sense when you looked at the big picture and it didn't make sense for me and my dental family. You know, back to that whole thing. I need to take care of them. They're taking care of me. I need to take care of them and it's been a blessing because through it all she's now working full time with me and you know, I literally she's amazing. So if I had listened to that advice, I would have lost her. So that, you know, things work out. That's great. Yeah, and you had you had that culture of the family yeah, that was kind of what you built your vision of the whole business really, and you knew enough to want to retain that. And also, yeah, I mean again to to you for seeing the long term vision. Like it sounds like you knew that there's other things beside short term costs involved like that might have helped you short term financially, possibly with bottom line, and you know, but that that maybe long term. What was more important is to have the people there so you could pertain the business right and I think that back to making choices for the long haul. You know, I chose after that first year, I started making plans to renovate the office, and that, again, was I wanted to demonstrate to the patients and my staff that this wasn't just I wasn't a fly by night, I wasn't just doing it to prove it that I could hmm, I was doing this I wanted to invest in the future and I wanted people to see me invest in the future and the pride and not for nothing, but also kind of making it my own, because, although Larry and I were a team, it was the Passarelli name that was the most prominent. I was just kind of the sidekick and now it was truly all mine. So not to disrespect but you know, the bucks stopped with me when it never had before. Yeah, I mean it was really coming into your own. It's an evolution of what what you built together, but then now coming into like make again, making it your own right. I don't know that much about the dead metal industry or profession. What is it like being a female in the profession? Well, I mean I don't think. I don't even think of that. To be truly honest. My Class I graduated in ninety one. So my dental school class at Maryland at that time was fifty percent female. So, you know, to me it really wasn't an issue. Having said that, in private practice, you know, ends in dealing with my Fatherin Law's practice. At when I initially started,...

...that was aging. It became younger as Larry and I got, you know, to have more and more of a reputation of our own, but there were definitely patients of my fatherin law who felt that I couldn't do what a guy could. I had a patient and Donald School who had asked to be assigned to someone different without meeting me, just she heard that I was a female and felt that I would be rough and horrible because I was a woman in a man's world, and she wound up being one of my staunchest supporters. So I think, you know, it's not that I haven't experienced it to a slight degree. Yeah, but it's more, you know, it's more people's perception. Not Not like a daily thing. Yeah, not like a conscious thing that's out exactly you intentionally put out there in summer. Respects exactly that. So what do you think's next for you? Keeping keeping the ball rolling? Take a kind of yeah, good, yeah, now I'm just you know, I'm happy I get to do what I love every day and honestly, the hard part is the business part, because you learn a lot about dentistry and everything in school and you learn nothing about business. So that you know that. You learn kind of school, heart knocks and talking to people and, like I said, hopefully you have good people around you who can help to guide you. But hopefully I just keep making some good choices and keeping those good people around and keep doing it. Is there anything you would want to tell either a business owner or a new upcoming dentist or even someone who might be going into partnership with their spouse, you know, in terms of a lesson learned or looking back and kind of leave because I know again, your story so compelling on so many levels. You know that you and you've lived through it right, you've got you've got through. It was and always planned, but somehow you found the resilience to work things out so well. I think really like to your I'll get your point in two seconds. You know, I think my parents raised me to be a fighter. They never made excuses with my my issue, with my cleft. I was always expected to just do and achieve and there were no exp you know, you couldn't make an excuse. You didn't get an exception. So I've always been a fighter and I think that that has served me well because I've faced you know, obviously Larry's the loss of Larry, but you know, I was diagnosed with diabetes and donal school. I've had issues along the way where I haven't you don't get to just pick things and have life work out. You have to fight for what you want and take good care of yourself and to take good care of those you love. But the advice that I would suggest to anybody, whether their dentist or not is you got to believe in yourself and you have to be willing to fight for what you want and work hard. I mean, life isn't fair and life isn't easy and if you think that it's going to be, you're going to be probably miserable. But you know, they're always silver linings even when things are bad and tough, and I think that that's what keeps me going. You know, I look at my boys and I know if Larry was here, they would not be the strong independent they would be strong and independent, but not to the degree that they are right now because they've had to do a lot on their own and they've had to work with me as opposed to us just taking care of them and providing for them. They've had to step up and I'm proud of them for that and I think when you're in it, you just want... make life easy for your kids and you want to make eat life easy for everyone around you, and sometimes I think it doesn't have the result that we're hoping. So that's like a silver lining. I see in my boys as devastating of a loss that it has been, and I think dentistry and medicine are both challenging. They always have been and I think that it's going to continue to be hard. But if you're doing it for the right reasons, I think you will find happiness, enjoy and what you do. It's it's evolving and you just like everything and you have to kind of learn how to make it be the best that you can get out of the situation you're in. That's great. So many lessons there and I think well and their idea of one final question. But before we get to it, you know again I want to just thank you. They're so many. I think a lot of people will resonate with with many of the things that you had shared with us today again on, as I said, on so many levels. So I really appreciate you sharing that with us. or no problem. So just kind of a fun question to end. What's the last non financial decisions you had to make today? What I was having for lunch? Oh, well, we decide. I had a hand sandwich. Me Too. Actually, I have a cheese today than something we have in comment. Thanks very much for joining us for today's conversation. We really do appreciate your time and perspectives and thank you all for tuning in. We hope you'll join US next time on decision dialogs for more stories from successful business owners. So long for now. Thank you for listening to decision dialogs. We hope you found today's stories helpful for your own decisionmaking. If you like to listen to more episodes, you can subscribe on your preferred podcasting APP or visit our website, where you'll also find show notes and important disclosures. WWWOO. Wellcom forward slash decision dialogs. This has been a production of twin flames studios.

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